Electoral volatility and political polarization in developing democracies: Evidence from Latin America, 1993–2016

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Party Politics




What explains political polarization across developing democracies? In contrast to extant studies, this article develops a novel argument that links electoral (in)stability at the party system level with varying levels of polarization. Specifically, we claim that increasing levels of electoral volatility generate high levels of uncertainty among partisan elites, which respond by setting clear policy positions that are frequently far away from the center in the ideological spectrum. As such, higher levels of volatility engender higher levels of polarization. Further, because the majority of party system change in developing democracies comes mainly from the emergence of new parties, we decompose the effects of stable party system volatility (for established parties) and replacement party system volatility (for newly competing parties) and hypothesize that higher levels of replacement volatility—as opposed to stable volatility—generate higher levels of polarization. Our main theoretical claims find strong qualitative and quantitative support.


electoral volatility, Latin America, party systems, polarization


Political Science